Africa's Most Underrated Country?
If you listen to international politics, Sudan is a bad, bad country. Bandits and terrorists all over, and when we set the course due south in the early months of the year, nobody back home really understood why. Well, to see if it's all true, and fortunately it's not. Sudan proved to be one of the most pleasant and friendly countries I have ever been to, and far from the hasrsh and dysfunctional dictatorship the country is usually claimed to be. Admitted, I didn't try running for the Sudanese parliament or even interfere with local politics, but as traveller, it's really hard to recognize the harsh reputation Sudan has received during the last few decades.
Attractions are plenty, most of them connected to the ancient days of the Pharaoes, including the magnificent Soleb Temple (the photo), or the plentitude of UNESCO-rated pyramids in Meroe or Nuri. History buffs will love these sites, but even better are the friendly people of Sudan. Far from fundamentalist Quran-bashers of elsewhere, the Sudanese are very friendly and hospitable and clearly deserve a few more foreign "ambassadeurs" to go home and tell the same nice stories I experienced.
Then, why don't the tourists flock to Sudan? Because the Sudanese government really doesn't want tourists! Or at least, they behave like that, because Sudan still maintains the stupid ex-Soviet invitation system to get a visa, and, even if the paper work is in order, it take four weeks of "handling time" to put a sticker in your passport - and they don't want to send it back to you. Great, if the embassy is in another country. And, should you make it to the holy land, you oficially need travel permits to get anywhere outside Khartoum, and photo permits to snap a few pictures. Apart from Equatorial Guinea, this is the only place in the world where these permits are needed. Sudan really acts as if they don't want tourists and choose to treat tourists like unwanted spies. But those of us who brave the bureaucracy are in for a treat - a country whose population is very far from the stupid government bureaucracy.
Go there, and see for yourself. Otherwise, enjoy the photo samples HERE.
Being a Radio Star
Kulturnatten (the Cultural Evening) is an annual "show" comprising a vast number of activities through all of Copenhagen downtown. One of the sites happened to be Cafe Globen, where no less than five travel shows were on stage - including my own Tibet (now digital). Before that, I had spent some time at Danish National Radio 1, in which the whole evening was set aside to interviews with a number of interesting cultural personalities - including me! The interview was scheduled to last eight minutes, however, the hosts were so interested in my travelling life, the eternal restlessness, the inevitable domestic losses and, of course, travel stories. Reportedly, it was a succes. Otherwise enjoy HERE, although you have to be fluent in Danish to get a grip of the stuff. If so, go straight to 20:05 (the broadcast starts at 19:00).
To tourists, Central Africa is one of the least known parts of the world. This is due to lots of reasons, however, a lack of "real attractions", stupid and complicated visa procedures, corrupt regimes, and a high price level certainly contribute to the misery - and the lack of tourists. Why spend a fortune and weeks of bureaucracy to go to Angola when you can go to neighbouring Namibia or Zambia without visa and experience one of the most interesting countries on the continent? Well, because it's such an untouched place which has been frequented by very, very few Europeans.
But it's worth the effort. Angola has proved to be a great experience with lots and lots of very friendly people, no signs of corruption, and, due to the very low oil price, a price level to enjoy. Angola is just a great place well worth the cumbersome visa hazzle. Main attraction? Its people! Very few places in Africa I have encountered such an amazing friendliness and honesty. On the city level, Benguela and Huambo are just great, and so is the central coast along Sumbe, Kikumba and Cabo Ledo. No national parks, no fancy buildings - just nice, all of it.
The same applies for Gabon, in particular if you like a tranquil coast line and forrests stuffed with mandrills. Congo is less virgin than Angola, but Brazzaville proved to be worth the stay - except for the slightly paranoid police who just don't like photographers. Apart from this self-appointed photo police, the region is definitely ok.